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8 Tips for Approaching Your Employer About Medical Marijuana Use

Note: The laws referred to in this post reflect current Canadian law. While there are many similarities, American readers should refer to their own state's policies and procedures.

There are a number of reasons why you might approach your employer about your medical marijuana use.

The first, and most obvious, is that you hold a safety-sensitive position at work and are acting on your duty to report a potential hazard. If you are impaired by medical marijuana, meaning there is a chance it impacts your ability to do work safely, then you need to come forward to your employer. This is your responsibility under occupational health and safety legislation.

Another reason you may come forward is if you are needing to consume cannabis on a frequent basis. Some patients need to consume every few hours to reduce the symptoms of a movement disorder caused by MS, ALS , Parkinson's disease, or for other reasons. You may need to let your employer know, so they can grant special permission for breaks or provide other forms of accommodation.

Canadian employers have a duty to accommodate your medical disability and the treatment that follows.

There is no requirement for employees who do not hold safety-sensitive positions to report their medical cannabis use to their employer, but there are obvious reasons why transparency would make sense.

If you are going to speak to your employer, here are some things to consider:

1. Know your rights and responsibilities

You have a responsibility to participate in an employer's request for medical information, so they can plan for accommodation. Employers may request information about:

  • Your prognosis for recovery.
  • Your fitness to return to work if you've been off work.
  • Your fitness to perform specific components of the job.
  • Any restrictions on performing your work duties.

Although the employer is entitled to know your prognosis, they are not entitled to know your diagnosis. A diagnosis is an explanation of what is causing the illness or injury. A prognosis is the likely outcome of the illness or injury.

Before you speak with your employer, read up on your employer's drug and alcohol policy. You should be familiar with your responsibilities under any internal policies if they exist.

2. Have your documentation in order

You should have your medical documentation organized, and you should be prepared to show you have a physician's prescription for medical marijuana.

Employers are not required to accommodate you if you don't have a valid prescription and are getting your marijuana from an illegal or "gray market" supplier. This distinction was confirmed in French vs. Selkin Logging, where a termination was upheld by the courts because the employee did not have valid documentation under the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR).

3. Be as forthcoming as possible

Outside of your responsibilities to participate in the accommodation process, you should decide how forthcoming you are willing to be. I would suggest that the more facts you are willing to share about your situation, the more understanding the employer will be. Your transparency will likely make your employer more comfortable and reduce the number of assumptions they make about your situation. However, this decision is up to you.

4. Confirm confidentiality

Only those people who need to know about your medical cannabis use in the workplace should know. Employee medical information should always be held in confidence. Discuss who will be privy to your medical information in the company and your preferences in regards to confidentiality.

5. Be proactive and helpful

If you have ideas about how the employer could accommodate you, offer these up front. Try to be proactive and work with the employer to find a solution.

Remember that the accommodation doesn't have to be perfect, meaning you may not be thrilled with the options. But this doesn't mean you can simply reject them. In fact, doing this would paint you in a bad light. If the accommodation options are reasonable, you should accept the accommodation offer.

6. Be prepared for an unexpected response from others

Medical cannabis is relatively new, and many people aren't educated on the topic. There is a strong stigma that exists, and it could be present in your workplace. You may find that people are surprised and uncomfortable. Don't take this personally, and allow people time to adjust.

7. Be professional

Approach the meeting with the employer in a professional manner. This will give your credibility. If your co-workers know, or find out, maintain your professionalism. If they joke about your cannabis use, I would recommend you keep a neutral attitude. Don't get mad, but don't participate in the joking. If you ignore it, it will likely go away.

8. Be perseverant

I'm not saying this is going to be easy. I hope it is, but talking to your employer about your medical marijuana could present challenges. Keep moving forward with a positive attitude. You can't control other people, but you can control your own approach.

If you approach your employer with these eight tips in mind, it will help to make the process more manageable for both parties.

Alison McMahon is a workplace expert based in Alberta, Canada and the Founder of Cannabis At Work. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn where she provides overdue commentary on weed + work.


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